Say no to no deal
A view from Jenny Biggam

Say no to no deal

If our industry wants to avoid the chaos of a no-deal Brexit, we need to make our voices heard loud and clear right now, before it's too late.

We are about to be engulfed in £100m-worth of advertising, claimed by the client (in Downing Street) as quoted in The Daily Telegraph to be "the biggest advertising campaign since the Second World War, to get Britain ready for a no-deal Brexit, with an unprecedented marketing blitz on billboards, radio and television".

£100m. In three months.

On 7 August, Campaign asked one of its regular panels of experts whether such a spend was justifiable. None of these experts came from an advertiser (although one used to work for ISBA), none from an advertising or media agency. The consensus view was "well, it’s not a lot of money in the circumstances". Meh, in other words.

I believe it is time that our industry – the agencies and the advertisers we all exist to serve – had an opportunity to have its say. 

Like any agency we spend our time worrying about our clients’ businesses, how they’re doing, how they could do better, how we might be able to help them. We talk to them all the time about the issues of the day, and the effect these issues might or could have on their performance.

We may be odd (but I doubt it), but not one of our advertisers is sanguine about the option of leaving the EU without a deal. All are concerned, to a greater or lesser extent. None are relaxed; none are comfortable with the notion.

Like many other agencies we spend our own resources keeping our clients informed as to how consumers generally, and their customers in particular, are feeling and thinking.

Earlier this month we conducted a small-scale study (1,000 national sample) on people’s views and attitudes towards a no-deal Brexit.

We found that only 28% agreed with the statement: "I think we should leave and I’m happy if that means we have no deal." 

So we have more than seven in 10 consumers not happy, to a greater or lesser degree, with the idea of no deal.

As Campaign put it in an editorial on 24 June 2016: "The mighty collective power of the UK's £20bn advertising industry – which has been united in its support for Remain – has failed to find the compelling messaging we so desperately needed. Shame on us."

We should not make the same mistake again.

Consumers unhappy with the potential consequences to their livelihoods of a no-deal Brexit deserve both sides of the argument; they need to hear not only from a government with an unlimited pot of money and what is by definition a political agenda, but from those real-world companies with which they choose to engage, be that through buying or using their products or for their wages.

If these organisations are concerned that their supply of goods, their pricing, their workforces will be impacted by a no-deal policy then now is the time to say so.

Apologising for any shortages, or higher prices, or loss of jobs after the event will be too late.

Other industries are making their opinions known – yesterday a flock of sheep was herded along Whitehall by farmers to raise awareness of the impact of no deal on the agricultural industry.

This is why I am writing this open letter to my industry. I have ideas as to what we can do to make sure that our clients’ voices are heard – from a tag line appearing in all ads ("We Say No to No Deal"?) right through to a collective campaign created on behalf of and funded by this country’s major advertisers.

I’m sure that between us we can come up with something compelling, achievable and powerful. If we don’t, our lasting contribution to the no-deal debate will be delivering the £100m campaign with no counter balance. 

Are you with me?

Jenny Biggam is founder of the7stars